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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Blaze

by director/co-writer Ethan Hawke

I have never felt more mysteriously called to a project than this one. It is a film shot straight from the gut. Put simply, it came from love. It was made from various fabrics; my relationship to my wife, music, Ben Dickey, Blaze Foley, Sybil Rosen, Townes Van Zandt, and the various artists that felt called to the same flame. It’s a home-made movie held together with Duct Tape. There’s nothing much intellectual about it. It was shot with one lens. The theory being the film needed to be spiritually married to its subject matter. Simple and unadorned like grassroots music. I just followed my nose and at every turn, like-minded people with passion showed up to help.

I’ve always loved movies about music. But I thought if I ever directed a movie about musicians, I wanted to cast musicians. I’d never seen strong differentiations in the various art forms anyway. There is a great Dennis Hopper quote, which goes something like, “I grew up a farm kid and I never saw any difference between acting, photography, painting, music, acting, directing—it was all the art.”

I love David Bowie’s acting. Diana Ross is brilliant in Lady Sings the Blues. I have a poster of Kris Kristofferson in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid on my wall at home. The problem with any bio-pic about a musician, however, is they’re always about FAMOUS musicians—and that always seemed patently phony. Most of all the musicians I’ve known have been met with absolute indifference.

One New Year’s Eve my friend Ben Dickey was in a deep, mournful state about his band Blood Feathers breaking up. He was sitting on my couch and started playing Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons,” and out of my mouth came the words, “You should play Blaze Foley in a movie.” Instantly, I knew I was going to direct that movie.

Blaze’s life would allow me the opportunity to attempt to tell a more truthful story about music and creativity. One without all the obvious tropes; here’s the scene he gets discovered! Here’s the scene he makes it big! Here’s the scene where his ego gets too big! We wouldn't need any of those scenes because he was never discovered, never made it big, and his own bitterness was his enemy rather than the “trials of fame.”

As soon as I read Sybil Rosen’s memoir (Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley), the film found focus. Her book was mystical and more about love than the celebration of the individual. It was about ghosts and the mystery of the present moment and how it intersects with the past and future. Her book—and her love for Blaze—would be our guide on how to at least try to make a serious film about music, romantic love, self-sabotage, forgiveness, and how human creativity is nature manifest inside each one of us.

Charlie Sexton went down the rabbit hole and came out with a galvanizing performance—all the while being the caretaker for all of the film's music. Alia Shawkat and Josh Hamilton came aboard and became a vital part of the DNA of the film. Steve Cosens brought vitality to the camera. Ian McGettigan obsessed on the sound. Producer Jake Seal gave us everything he had.

The film seemed to have a little star guiding us. Whatever the end result is, it’s a representation of some kind LOVE. It’s a corny word that people overuse—but that’s what built this film. Thank you Blaze Foley for bringing us together.

"Love's a gift that's surely handmade." - Guy Clark

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